Star Wars and ... Christianity!

I do not normally watch movies. However I did go to see the new "Star Wars, Episode I - The Phantom Menace." Since everyone was speaking about it, I decided to follow the crowd and see what the hoopla is all about.

The movie itself is very average. Non ending computer generated images and cutting edge digital sound systems.... New planets, underwater worlds and pod racers. An action movie made for adults with a 13 year-old mentality. A whole 2 hour, 12 minute saga. The content very scant. However the implications and innuendoes it promotes are puzzling and intriguing.

Obviously millions of dollars have been invested in marketing this film to make it rise above its mediocre rank. One other example of how the media conditions what we think and what we believe.

"It's Only A Movie"

Many critics see a lot of Christian overtones in the film. The affinity is definitely striking. Anakin has no father, 'virgin born' like Christ. He is a slave living in a desert hoping some day to set his people free, like Moses. Jedi Knight Qii-Gon Jinn believes that Anakin is the Promised One (Christ) of prophecy who will recreate balance in the universe. He proclaims his belief in Anakin as John the Baptist did of Christ. Anakin has a unique connection to the Force, as Jesus did to the Holy Spirit.

In one scene, Anakin stands before the Jedi council, "as Jesus did before the temple priests" and hears words that are very similar to the Gospel passage of Matthew 11: 3, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

Is the creator-writer-director George Lucas pushing the envelope a little too far with new elements of the Star Wars myth that comes conspicuously close to mocking Christian scriptures and beliefs? Lucas has been quick to play down the religious-mythological aspects of the plot. At a New York news conference a couple of weeks ago, Lucas told reporters : "It's only a movie."

However, Michael Medved, author of the bestseller "Hollywood Versus America" and the follow-up video "Hollywood Versus Religion," points out that it's na´ve to accept the movie director's assertions that hidden religious messages are often "unintentional" and that viewers are just "reading more into the script" than what's really there.

"How can you possibly admit that these things have been "overlooked" in major studio productions, he affirms, when directors and producers spend thousands of dollars investigating the most minute aspects of every scene, from the period costumes to background lighting to the best camera angles for the greatest impact on viewers? Religious objects, images and especially dialogue, he maintains, are carefully combed and reworked until the effect is "just right."

The Man Behind The Myth

The real man behind the myth is not however George Lucas but Joseph Campbell. Campbell was a philosopher of religion and mythologist, an accomplished writer. Lucas affectionately calls him as "my Yoda". "If it hadn't been for him," Lucas acknowledges, "it's possible I would still be trying to write `Star Wars' today."

Born in New York in 1904, Joseph Campbell was raised a Catholic. However he gradually distanced himself from the Church. Though on one hand he was struck by the image world of medieval Christianity as symbolized in the cathedral of Chartres, on the other hand he really believed in Jung's assertion that religion can easily become a defense against the experience of God.

"God," Campbell explains, "is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all categories of human thought... It's as simple as that." He died in 1987.

Campbell's first book as sole author, The Hero with a Thousand Faces focuses on the many tales of heroes who overcome great odds to perform impossible tasks.

Campbell discerns a consistent pattern in these tales: The hero is called to an adventure which he accepts; he is given charms or magical weapons by a protective figure who is older and wiser; the hero then journeys into an unknown land where he meets demons and undergoes great suffering; the hero triumphs over the menace and is reborn in the process; he then returns to his homeland enriched with new insights that will benefit his people.

George Lucas just gave a visual interpretation to this basic theme in his Star Wars.

Campbell saw this story as primarily an inner battle in which the hero undergoes a kind of self-psychotherapy, confronts his own darker side, and gains a greater understanding of himself and his culture in the process. This is the pattern of every man's existence, he concludes.

New Age

"Channeling cosmic forces," "searching for your 'inner-self,' " "seeking to balance the light side with the dark side," are all expressions of Campbell which eventually trickled into the New Age phenomenon. It is one way of escaping from reality into the reassuring mythology of a distant land "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."

Following his guru, Lucas affirms that one religion is as good as another. And he sees "Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct." He basically eliminates the idea of a personal God. The notion of the 'Force' is linked to the Eastern views of God, particularly Buddhist, as a vast reservoir of energy that is the ground of all of our being.

Trivializing religion, promoting religion with no strings attached is dangerous.

In the May 22 edition of World Magazine, R. Albert Mohler points out something interesting. "The mythology of Star Wars," he affirms, "is perfectly adapted to the spiritual confusion of post modern America. 'Go with the Force' is about all many citizens can muster as spirituality. When Christianity ceases to be the dominant world view of a culture, paganism is quick to fill the void," with disastrous consequences. See Littleton, Colorado!

Is it 'May the Force be with you' or 'May THE LORD be with you'?

Personally, I prefer the latter!

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.